ARLENE VIOLET – The Police Bill of Rights, changes

ARLENE VIOLET – The Police Bill of Rights, changes

The recent call to examine the Police Bill of Rights is a good thing. Yet, in some instances specific proposals are short-sighted. Take the argument to give police chiefs more rights to suspend or expel an officer preemptively. Remember, how police chiefs get their appointments. A mayor or other governmental body appoints the police chief so the process is inherently political. Some mayors dictate how the force should be run. They inoculate their political buddies from enforcement and woe to any constable on patrol (COP) who issues a ticket or arrests one of them for a DUI. The late mayor in Providence, Vincent Cianci, was a puppet master when his appointment, Urbano Prignano, was chief. Folks were promoted on the basis of campaign contributions to "Hizzoner,” copies of tests were made available to the chosen before the exams, and police members and other law enforcement personnel like housing inspectors were punished or fired for issuing citing violations to his “friends.” Accordingly, due process before punishment must be retained.

I don’t object necessarily to having three police officers (one chosen by the accused, one by the administrations and a third by both designees) sitting on the panel. Certainly, some actions like kneeling on a suspects neck until he expires don’t require a Mensa member schooled in police protocols but sometimes the nuances of appropriate police work does need someone versed in the field, particularly in undercover work. What might appear as an action indicating that an officer is bent may not be evidence at all. In hospitals on a question of malpractice other MD specialists review the case. The hospital is also looking to cover itself but there is a need for expert review.

So, what would I propose? Except in cases of addiction, hearings should be public if an officer opts to go to a hearing. The accuser should be called to testify, exhibits entered on the record and the public afforded the opportunity to attend in person or by WebEx, Zoom, or other streaming service. The antiseptic of transparency will keep the process honest.

Some police officers, no doubt, are angry with me now for suggesting such an intrusion. In the long term, public access will help reinstate respect. There really is no compelling reason to do anything in secret for police personnel since all citizens are subjected to a public process when they are accused. Many of the arguments that were initially used to prevent Court TV from broadcasting high profile trials are being invoked now and they didn’t hold water then or now.

So, when a Bill of Rights hearing is required there should be an expedited process. Normally, 90 days is sufficient to investigate and charge a case. Police officers shouldn’t get a “free look” at evidence before they have to give their version but they should be able to decline to speak at all like any citizen. Discovery should be allowed as it is for anyone before a hearing and if there is a “deal” before the hearing, it should be put on the record as to what it is. A national registry should be publicly available for those found guilty of abuse, racism, or malfeasance.

It’s time to go public.

Violet is an attorney and former state attorney general.


Your ideas regarding the bill of rights are worthy of debate, but I'd go further. Most often the highly secretive sessions are held regarding elected officials. We never know what transpires in these "executive sessions" town councils hold when they are considering improper behavior of fellow council members, police chiefs, mayors etc... I wonder if your appetite for antiseptic for transparency extends to elected and other public officials?